Location: Widecombe in the Moor, Dartmoor, England
Novel in my bag: The Earl I Ruined, Scarlett Peckham
Best of the trip: Hiking out to Wistman’s Wood in the slicing rain on Halloween night. It was dark and wet and spooky, and all of the local ghost stories we’d read about the place before hiking there suddenly seemed a lot more likely than they’d had in the warm pub before…
Worst of the trip: Hiking out to Wistman’s Wood on Halloween night…and then realizing we weren’t alone and there was a strange man lurking in the woods near us. I had about five solid minutes of thinking we were going to get serial-killed, before we learned that the strange man was actually a Belgian graphic designer, and very nice.
Foodie Highlights: Dartmoor has a range of snug old pubs, like The Rock Inn and Tinpickle and Rhun, but my favorite meal was in London, at Blacklock Soho. The restaurant is tucked into the basement of an old brothel, and serves a range of delicious meat dishes. Being from the Midwest, I’m pretty picky about my meat because we have so much good stuff at home, but Blacklock did not disappoint. From the tender lamb chops to the hip cocktails, Blacklock delivered on that tricky balance between trendy and simply delicious.
When I first had the idea for the Thornchapel series, I knew it was going to be the kind of story indelibly tied to place. I’m always a setting-first writer anyway, in that I build the world before anything else (yes, even in contemporary fiction, world-building is crucial!) and then once I build the world, I can start sketching out the kind of people who live there and discover what they’ll do to affect the plot. But at the very heart of the Thornchapel story is the house and the land around it—Thornchapel is its own character and it drives the plot. Without understanding the place, I couldn’t approach the story.
So I did something I’ve never done before, and I took my very first research trip to where the Thornchapel books would be set—the sweeping, craggy moors and lush, river-ribboned valleys of Dartmoor, in southwest England. I planned nearly a week of rambling over damp footpaths and checking out the area’s vast scatter of prehistoric monuments; during the days, I hiked hard and wandered far, and at night, I returned to a snug little cottage and drank Scotch by the fire (and watched a lot of British reality television while I ate roast-chicken flavored potato chips). I hiked in the rain, the fog, the sunshine—usually all in the same day—and I wandered through ancient forests, mossy churchyards, and between crooked standing stones.
And the whole time I did, I became increasingly aware of how this story needed this from me. I’d spent obsessive hours on Google Maps and Pinterest trying to get a feel for Dartmoor, but when I got there, I realized—there’s simply no way to do the place justice online. Even the best satellite-imaged maps can’t capture how dramatic the moors are when they’re wreathed in fog, or how chilling it is to step into what looks like a small patch of woods on the map and then realize you can’t see the end of them in either direction. Not every book needs this from an author—in fact, I’ve written over fifteen books now, along with a slew of short stories and novellas, and this is the first time I’ve ever needed to see a place and be in it—but I’m beyond grateful that my kids are old enough and I had the means to go. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Thornchapel series would be weaker, messier, and less if I hadn’t been able to see the world of the story for myself.
Sierra Simone is a USA Today Bestselling former librarian (who spent too much time reading romance novels at the information desk.) She lives with her husband and family in Kansas City.
When librarian Poe Markham takes the job at Thornchapel, she only wants two things: to stay away from Thornchapel’s tortured owner, Auden Guest, and to find out what happened to her mother twelve years ago. It should be easy enough—keep her head down while she works in the house’s crumbling private library and while she hunts down any information as to why this remote manor tucked into the fog-shrouded moors would be the last place her mother was seen alive. But Thornchapel has other plans for her…
As Poe begins uncovering the house’s secrets, both new and old, she’s also pulled into the seductive, elegant world of Auden and his friends—and drawn to Auden’s worst enemy, the beautiful and brooding St. Sebastian. And as Thornchapel slowly tightens its coil of truths and lies around them, Poe, Auden and St. Sebastian start unravelling into filthy, holy pleasure and pain. Together, they awaken a fate that will either anoint them or leave them in ashes…